For you Windows users who have always wanted to check out Linux but don't want to install it on your computer or don't have an extra computer lying around to install it on have another option to get your Linux fix. The Universal USB Installer will let you install Linux on a flash drive and then boot your computer with it and run Linux on your Windows based or other OS based computer without affecting your current Windows installation.
The only catch is that this is a temporary instance of Linux and once you shut down your computer then Linux goes away with it unless you boot up with the flash drive again. This setup comes in handy if you just want to play around with Linux or better yet if Windows crashes and you need to get into your hard drive to get some files off your computer before formatting the drive and reinstalling Windows. Some distributions will have the option to install Linux from your bootable flash drive though.
To use the Universal USB Installer you will need a flash drive with a decent amount of capacity. The size will depend on what version of Linux you are going to use since some versions are around 700MB and others can be over 3GB. You most likely don't need the full blown version with all the bells and whistles since it's just a temporary/minimal installation you will be working with. A 4GB flash drive should work fine for most cases.
You will also need to download an iso image file of the version of Linux you want to boot to. If you don't know where to download the iso file from you can run the Universal USB Installer, choose a flavor of Linux that sounds interesting or that you have heard about and check the Opted to Download the iso box or click the Visit the Linux flavor Home Page link. If you have already downloaded your iso then you will need to browse to the location where the file is located at.
Next you will select your USB drive by letter from the dropdown list. If it's not shown but you know its connected you can check the Show all Drives box but make sure you choose the right drive letter to match your USB drive to avoid overwriting any data on your hard drive. The format drive box is optional and you most likely don't need to do that unless you want any extra data on your flash drive erased.
The persistent file size for storing changes option allows you to save data changes back to the flash drive instead of leaving the information in RAM which gets erased when you shut down the computer. Then you can use this data again when you boot to the USB drive again, even if you are booting the drive on a different computer.
After you choose all your settings and click the Create button you will get to review your settings before proceeding.
Then click on Yes to continue or no to go back and make changes. The Universal USB Installer will then extract the iso file and setup your flash drive with the Linux image you chose.
When the process is complete you can click on Close and prepare to boot your computer with your new Linux boot flash drive.
To boot your computer with from a USB flash drive you need to have a motherboard that supports this feature and will need to go into the BIOS and set your computer to boot to the USB drive as the first boot device. Some computers like to have the drive inserted when going into the BIOS so that it's recognized as and can be set as a bootable device.
The Universal USB Installer can be downloaded here for free.